Why I Love Historical Fiction
I’m a bookworm at heart. There are few things in life that are more enjoyable to me than a really good book. I’m also terribly picky when it comes to the literature I consume. I want high quality, pure, worthwhile reading material. I love to read, but I don’t want to waste my life doing it. For many years after becoming a believer, I only read books that would help me grow in the Lord. This was extremely helpful, but in my opinion, imbalanced. About six years ago, I was introduced to the historical fiction genre and I haven’t looked back since. I want to share with you three reasons why it takes extreme amounts of self-control for me to put down a historical fiction book at night, and why you might want to give them a chance, too.
History was never one of my favorite subjects. Truth be told, I found it to be boring. Something about teachers droning on for hours about lifeless facts didn’t capture my attention. But, I love people.
I remember in high school spending hours putting together my family tree by asking my grandmother questions and doing research about my family’s origins. I am Italian, and my great-grandparents came over from Italy in 1914 through Ellis Island. As I learned my about my family, I learned history in the most engaging manner: stories. I was hooked and wanted to keep learning because I found it fascinating.
Historical fiction does that for me. When an author puts his heart into his work with thorough research, interviews, and visits to the location where the story takes place, history comes alive through the life of a fictional character. This has become my favorite way to learn about history.
No matter who writes history, it’s always going to be at least slightly slanted as the worldview of the author serves as a filtering lens. Much of the history taught in textbooks is grossly biased by a worldview with which I do not agree, and I want to learn more of the truth. Learning through first or second-hand stories, written by people who desire to speak the truth, often provides this opportunity.
Historical Fiction is Perspective-Changing
Over the last several years as I’ve read these stories, I’ve been forced to deal with atrocities in history of which I was previously unaware. Much of it has been heartbreaking and eye-opening. I have been blessed to live in a land that is still among the freest, wealthiest, most peaceful places on earth. I have never really known war, terror, poverty, or harsh persecution.
At times since becoming a believer, when I see the injustices on the earth, I’ve had thoughts like, “I need to sell everything I have; I shouldn’t have all this stuff. There are people who have so much less than me. Why was I born here and not there?” What we might call a “poverty mindset” has popped up here and there in my thinking. By that, I mean that I begin having an unsettled feeling over the fact that I have things, or have peace in my land. I think that it would be more virtuous for me to have less because so many other people do.
But this is in contradiction to God’s Word. I’m told to have peace and to be thankful (Colossians 3:15), and what matters most to the Lord is my heart (1 Samuel 16:7). I see examples all throughout the Bible of people who loved God and were extremely wealthy, blessed by God. Abraham and Job were just two. When I am anxious about the fact that the Lord has blessed me with much, I sin. I’m told not to be anxious, and I’m not practicing a grateful heart toward my generous Father.
So, what reading historical fiction does for me is cultivate a heart of gratitude. I am so thankful that I can walk down my street and not worry about bombs dropping on me or my children. I can feed my kids breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with variety in the foods served. I can openly go to church several times a week instead of secretly meeting in my basement with others who risk their lives to meet with me. My house hasn’t been ransacked by an invading army, and family members haven’t been carted off to labor camps. I am thankful that I have not known terror.
When I read someone’s story who has suffered through many hard things, I am reminded that I have so much to be thankful for. In those moments, I seek to worship God, thanking Him for how He has given me a different story. To be sure, the Bible has much to say on suffering, and all of his children will experience discipline from his hand. But, my heart is made exceedingly grateful for his abounding mercy to me through reading.
I am Instructed in How to Pray
I can be thankful for what I have and what I experience. But, many have, and countless more will experience great suffering and terror on this earth. Millions experience it today. When I read historical fiction, history is narrowed down and made very personal. I’m not just dealing with facts, I’m facing the reality of someone’s life. If I simply read the book commending it as good and put it on my shelf when I’m finished, I’ve missed part of God’s purpose for the book.
The people I read about may not be alive today, but I am instructed very specifically on how to pray for someone who is on the earth today. I may not know a name, but the Lord does. He hears every single one of my prayers, and He attends to them (Psalm 66:19). Just because I don’t know a specific name doesn’t mean my prayers are worthless or just hit the ceiling. They are precious to the Lord, and He acts on them.
In the books I read, I have learned of atrocities done by wicked men. These are also people to pray for. Maybe the real-life leaders in the books aren’t alive today, but there are others who do still act viciously and with impunity. For guidance in how to pray for them, I can go to the Psalms where David poured out his heart to the Lord about his enemies, and I can go to the New Testament where Jesus instructs us on how to pray for our enemies. I can pray for judgment of sin, and I can pray for salvation of souls. Both are the Lord’s, and both are Biblical. Those who reject Jesus will experience God’s unending wrath. I don’t want any person to experience that, and He made a way for any who would trust in Jesus to escape it.
I also hate wickedness and want Jesus to act on behalf of those who are so unjustly treated. So, I call on the man who is Justice, and trust that He will act in His time. I pray that His great name will be exalted on the earth now (Psalm 108:5), as it one day will be.
A few favorites
Now you have just a glimpse into my love for historical fiction. How about a few recommendations? Remember, I’m particular. I’m very sensitive to the content: spiritually, graphically, and romantically. Everyone’s standards are different, so while I would like to be found trustworthy, always read asking for discernment from the Holy Spirit. The authors listed below are Christians.
Here are a few of my favorite authors and books:
The Zion Covenant by Bodie Thoene
The Zion Chronicles by Bodie Thoene
Florian’s Gate by T. Davis Bunn
The Amber Room by T. Davis Bunn
Winter Palace by T. Davis Bunn
Something I find neat about each of these authors is the way in which they go about their writing. Bodie Thoene’s husband is a historian, so he does all of her research for her stories, and they work as a team. T. Davis Bunn has worked extensively with his wife, and the books above are based on the history of her family.
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